coaching

5 ways to be a really bad boss

February 21, 2013: 10:35 AM ET

Ever work for someone you swore you'd never be like? Here's what one tech CEO learned from his worst bosses.

130221101054-bossy-boss-340xaFORTUNE -- Next time you find yourself grumbling about what a jerk your boss is, just think: This person could be giving you a valuable negative example. "I've worked for some horrible managers and some great ones," says Steve Pogorzelski, the CEO of online-marketing metrics powerhouse ClickFuel. He's grateful to the worst of them, he adds, "for showing me what to avoid."

Before joining ClickFuel, Pogorzelski spent 10 years at Monster.com (MWW), including two years as group president of Monster International, from 2005 to 2007, during which he helped revenues jump by 60% to $488 million. As an investor in tech startups, whose founders he advises, "I'm still learning every day," he adds.

Not sure whether your fearless leader qualifies as a bad boss? Pogorzelski has pinpointed five things bad bosses do.

1. Discourage risk-taking. As an intern at a publishing company a couple of decades ago, Pogorzelski recalls, "they told me I wasn't management material because I wasn't cautious and conservative enough." His penchant for questioning the status quo was more welcome later on at Monster, where "I had a great boss who encouraged risk," he says. "The only rule was, if you're going to take a chance and make a mistake, do it fast -- so you can change direction fast." Much of Monster International's growth spurt came from acquisitions, especially in Asia: "Every one of them was a big risk, but they all worked out."

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Often, he says, bad bosses "squelch risk -- even small risks -- because they fear being shown up by someone who has a better idea. But great people under you push you up. They don't push you out."

2. Manage by command-and-control. At that publishing company where he interned, Pogorzelski recalls, bosses' command-and-control style meant that "nobody did anything more than was absolutely required, because you'd be punished for showing any initiative."

Crushing creativity may have worked all right back in the days when the pace of technological and economic change was glacial, and people expected to stay at one company for decades. "But now, employees are loyal to their own careers, not to any one company," he says. "If you fall back on command-and-control, your best people will leave. Anyone who performs well under that kind of boss is not an A player."

One symptom of a command-and-control culture, he adds, is when "people are surprised by their annual performance evaluations. That shouldn't happen, because a boss should be coaching and giving feedback constantly." In his experience, the most effective coaches pull no punches: "If people know you have their best interests at heart, they can take honest criticism no matter how it's given. There's no need to sugarcoat it."

3. Reward tenure and personal loyalty over merit. "I've worked for some bosses who demanded personal loyalty and rewarded sycophants, not performance," Pogorzelski says. "But the best bosses believe everyone's main loyalty should be to the customer, and they reward you based on what you do, not who you know."

As for tenure, a long stint with one employer is now just as outdated as command-and-control management, he believes. "Unless you've been promoted a lot or faced a series of new challenges, staying a long time in one place is almost a negative." That idea is more accepted in the U.S. than in some other cultures, he adds: "At Monster International, we found that it was hard to convince European managers, who are used to a whole different tradition, that just being there for a certain number of years didn't guarantee a promotion."

4. Emphasize anecdotes over analytics. "I've worked with a few bad bosses who made decisions based on anecdotal information rather than hard data," says Pogorzelski. "But given the amount and the speed of data available now, there's no good reason to do that. Incompetent managers prefer to rely on anecdotes because they can always find someone to tell them what they want to hear, rather than what the facts are."

Beware, he says, of "a boss who starts a meeting by saying, 'If the data are to be believed ... ' or 'I know what the data show, but everybody thinks ... ' My answer to that is, 'Bring me everybody, and we'll see.'" One of his all-time worst bosses, he adds, "made a major product decision based on an isolated anecdote he heard that suggested the product didn't work well, when the analytics showed that it did. The changes he made as a result were disastrous for the business."

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5. Consider management a project or an end result. "Bad bosses see managing people as an event, rather than a process," Pogorzelski notes. "A once-a-year performance evaluation is an event. But real management is something that goes on every day, where you're constantly finding occasions to give feedback."

Listening helps, too. Pogorzelski observes that key people often start job hunting because "they're uncertain what's next for them in this company. If you create an environment where they feel they can tell you what they're hoping for -- international experience, for example -- you're less likely to lose them."

In the tech startups he advises, Pogorzelski says, "I recommend to top management that they coach the people under them as often as possible, because coaching is a gift. If you put it that way -- if you say, 'I'm telling you this because I care about your success' -- people will respond by giving you their best work."

Ideally, he adds, the coaching goes both ways. As a CEO interviewing potential new hires, "I look for people who will tell me I'm wrong. I want subordinates who aren't afraid to bring me bad news."

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